Millions in COVID-19 relief cash went to ineligible businesses

Premier Doug Ford during a media briefing. 8 February 2021. (Screenshot from CPAC)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is downplaying $210 million in COVID-19 relief money given to ineligible small businesses.

The province’s auditor general released a report on Wednesday saying that her office also discovered that almost half of the businesses that were eligible received $714 million more in taxpayers money than their reported revenue loss.

Bonnie Lysyk said some recipients reported little to no loss in revenue but got the minimum $10,000 in grants designed to help them get through the pandemic. Lysyk said more than 51,000 businesses received more than $939 million in grants but reported losses of $225 million.

When asked at a news conference in Mississauga on Wednesday why the province is wasting taxpayer’s money, Ford said problems in the grants program were due to the province rushing to get the cash out to help businesses.

“We don’t believe in wasting taxpayers money. We put out $3.3 billion if you put that into perspective. Similar to the federal government, when we’re rushing money out the door to support the small businesses that were in desperate need of it, unfortunately, you’re going to see some fraud,” said Premier Ford. “We don’t take that lightly. We’re always going to continue to look into it to see where we can improve. There were a lot of people that were supported to the tune of $3.3 billion not once but twice. We gave the first grant and then we doubled it up shortly thereafter. I think more people benefited than got hurt.”

However, the Ontario Small Business Support Grant Program started in January 2021, nearly a year after the pandemic began.

Ford said the money will go back into the economy and helped many businesses stay afloat.

Lysyk concluded that, on the whole, ministries did not design effective and efficient systems and procedures to deliver cost-effective programs to eligible recipients only to support Ontario’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is slamming Ford for turning his back on small businesses that legitimately needed help to make it through the pandemic, while giving nearly $1 billion to corporations that didn’t need it and didn’t qualify.

“Doug Ford dragged his feet for 10 months of the pandemic before finally slapping a support program in place over just two days,” said Horwath. “Helping small businesses wasn’t a priority for Ford, so he launched a late, half-baked program ripe for abuse. I can’t imagine how it feels for mom-and-pops to know that while they were closing their doors and walking away from their dreams, Ford was shoveling millions over to businesses that didn’t need it,” Horwath said in a statement. “Why did the Ford government choose not to put any oversight in place to make sure grants went into helping small businesses keep their doors open and staff employed? Why did he write off that money instead of getting back funds that belong to Ontarians?”

Ontario Liberal Leader, Steven Del Duca, also wasted little time responding and called Ford incompetent and reckless.

“I would like to thank the Auditor General for her latest audit of the Ford Government, which has confirmed many of the serious failures raised by the Ontario Liberal Party. She has exposed that Doug Ford wasted or misspent billions of dollars because of his incompetence in responding to COVID-19. Her report exposes non-stop scrambling to roll out programs hundreds of days after they were needed because of a lack of basic managerial skills in Doug Ford’s Government,” said Del Duca in a statement.